Camping in Big Bend National Park is one of the highlights of a trip to this remarkable park. Dark skies, birds and wildlife, nature and tranquility are what you will find. The park has a campground in each of three distinct regions: Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and Santa Elena/Castalon. In the latter you will find the Cottonwood Campground. Each area offers unique hikes and sites, but all campgrounds are very good. Choosing where to stay comes down to personal taste or even time of year. Chisos Basin has a slightly different climate, with warmer nights and cooler daytime temperatures than Rio Grande Village or Cottonwood. Many of the hiking trails in Big Bend are centered around Chisos Basin, but one of the best hikes, Santa Elena Canyon, is near Cottonwood, and the hot springs,
You can reserve some sites at Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village, but each of these sites also has a first-come-first-serve basis. Cottonwood campground has non-reserved sites only. You can reserve sites up to 180 days in advance on the Big Bend National Park website. All sites are first come, first served on all three campsites from April 16 to November 14. Here are our top picks for the best campgrounds in Big Bend National Park:
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1 Chisos Basin Campground
Located on a small plateau surrounded by jagged peaks, the Chisos Basin Campground has a dramatic setting, at an elevation of 5,040 feet. This is one of the most pleasant places to camp due to its climate and proximity to some of the best hiking in Big Bend National Park. In general, nighttime temperatures can be warmer than those at lower elevations as the warm air drifts upwards, and it’s slightly cooler here during the day, which can sometimes be a real relief. Popular hikes in this area include Lost Mine, Emory Peak and the Window Trail, the latter of which can be accessed directly from the site.
The campsite has 60 campsites, 24 of which can be reserved. All others are first come, first served. Sites range from very private, with barely another site visible, to highly visible, backing onto other campgrounds with no visible separation. The sun beats down on this area and not all sites have covered shelters for shade. This can be a determining factor when choosing a site here. Chisos Basin Campground has no showers but has toilets.
2 Cottonwood Campground
For nature and tranquility, Cottonwood Campground is your best option. Located in a lush area not far from the Rio Grande, this campground sees all manner of birds and critters, from vermilion flycatchers to the much-maligned javelinas. At night you can sometimes hear great horned owls near the sites. Huge poplars provide plenty of shade during the hot days from spring to fall. The Cottonwood area is much warmer than the Chisos Basin due to its lower elevation of only 2169 feet, but this can sometimes be an advantage when the weather is cold. This campground has 24 campsites, all of which are first come, first served. For the most part, the sites are large and well placed apart from each other. Amenities here are limited to pit toilets.
3 Rio Grande Village Campground
This is the largest campground in the park near the Rio Grande River, but it’s divided up and still has the feel of a more intimate campground. Of the 100 sites, 43 are bookable. This campground is at an elevation of 1,850 feet, so it’s one of the hottest areas in the park. This can be an advantage during the colder months, but a definite disadvantage in the summer. Sites are usually large and offer a fair amount of shade, and most campsites do not have shade cover. Most sites offer good privacy, and some are completely surrounded by trees and shrubs so that the surrounding sites are not even visible. The Nature Trail, one of the best short walks in the park, leaves from this campground. Amenities at Rio Grande Village Campground include showers and restrooms.
4 Rio Grande Village RV Campground
Located not far from the Rio Grande Village Campground, the RV park is a long and narrow, paved parking lot, with RV sites along the sides. While the set-up of the parking garage isn’t great, the surrounding landscape is. Large cottonwood trees surround the area, though not close enough to provide shade, and you can see the mountains in the distance. Roadrunners and other critters often pass by the area. Just up the road from the RV park is a pleasant picnic area and the start of a hike that leads to the hot springs, although this is by no means the shortest access point to the hot springs.
The Rio Grande Village RV, operated by Forever Resorts, offers 25 sites, all with full hookups, and 20 of them are bookable. The elevation here is 1,800 feet, and days can be quite warm depending on the season. There is a camp store nearby with some food and basic supplies.
5 Primitive Roadside Campgrounds in Big Bend National Park
Off dirt roads, tucked into various corners of the park, you will find campsites in the countryside. Unlike many parks where backcountry means hiking into a campground, here you can drive your vehicle to your own isolated campground. If you want to experience the stillness of a desert night on your own, this is a great opportunity. Light pollution is almost nonexistent in the park, which is a designated dark sky park, and on a moonless night the stars are fantastic. It is important to note that there are no toilets, no water available and many have absolutely no shade, so make sure you are well equipped and have a shaded structure. You must be completely self-sufficient. If it has rained recently, you may be out of luck, as the roads have become undriveable. Backcountry permits are required, but they are free. All of these are non-reserved.
6 Rancho Topanga Campground
Rancho Topanga Campground is located on the west side of the park, not far from Terlingua. It is a tenting-only campground and a good option if you can’t find a campground in the park. This family-run hotel is the best camping site for tents outside the park. The campground is at the foot of a hill and is relatively scenic. Facilities include showers with hot and cold water, a luxury you can’t always find in some of the hotels in Terlingua, restrooms with toilets, water at each site and the campground is pet friendly. The 25 sites are spread over a large desert area and there is no shade, so be sure to bring your own awning if you plan to spend the day at the campsite.
Official Site: https://www.ranchotopanga.com/
7 Maverick Ranch RV Park
Associated with Lajitas Golf Resort, this is a beautiful RV park in a scenic setting in the Painted Hills, about 20 miles from the west entrance of Big Bend National Park. One of the great benefits of staying here is that guests have full use of the facilities of Lajitas Golf Resort, including the swimming pool and all the activities offered by the resort. The park itself has a number of large trees scattered throughout the grounds and each campsite has a picnic table. The park is pet friendly and offers wireless internet, cable TV, full hookups, bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities and a dog park.
While this is primarily an RV park, with 100 RV sites, 60 of which are pull-throughs, they can also accommodate tents. Rates vary according to season and length of stay, including daily, weekly and monthly rates.
Official Site: https://www.lajitasgolfresort.com/default.aspx?pg=maverickranch
8 BJ’s RV Park
While this is not the closest campground to the park gate, it is one of the closest and a reasonable option for RVers. Located on the west side in Terlingua, BJ’s RV Park offers 29 sites with hookups, and can accommodate any RV. Amenities include toilets, showers and WiFi. This park is just a piece of desert by the side of the road, but what it lacks in the scenery and atmosphere it makes up for is if you plan to visit the park. The park prides itself on low light pollution, allowing you to see the amazing West Texas night sky. BJ’s RV Park is also pet-friendly.
Official Site: https://bjrvpark.com/
9 Big Bend Resort & Adventures RV Park
Big Bend Resort & Adventures is only about four miles from the eastern entrance to Big Bend National Park, making it incredibly convenient. This is a large campground so if you get stuck you can usually find something here. It can accommodate large platforms and tents and offers full hookups and WiFi. Pets are welcome, and reduced rates for monthly stays are available. Parking spaces are not paved.
Official site: https://www.bigbendresort.com/rv-park-and-campground
10 Study Butte RV Park
The undeniable advantage of staying at this RV park, if you can’t find a campground in the park, is that it’s only three miles from the west entrance to Big Bend National Park, making it the closest camping option to the park. This is a small facility but offers showers, wifi, full hookups and some tent sites. The campground has a small general store with a gift shop, but directly across the street is Cottonwood General Store, with an excellent selection of groceries and camping supplies. You can’t miss this place when driving through Study Butte. The gift shop is a bright green color and the Statue of Liberty stands proudly at the front of the road.
11 Marathon Motel an RV Park
Located in Marathon, about 40 miles from Big Bend National Park, the Marathon Motel and RV Park offers a 19-site RV area with full hookups and a separate tent area. Facilities include bathrooms, showers, cable TV and a dump. This is the best option if you are coming from the east. The main problem with this location is the train tracks across the road. At night, the trains will blow their horns as they go through Marathon.
Official Site: https://www.marathonmotel.com/
Where to stay near Big Bend National Park
If the weather isn’t cooperating, campgrounds in the park are full, or you just want a break from camping, you’ll find some great choices on the edge of the park. It is important to note that the price difference between low quality budget places and luxury resorts and hotels is not that great. Most accommodations near the park are pricey, but high-end hotels are actually very good value.
- Luxury Hotels: If you’re arriving from the east, you’ll probably want to base yourself on marathon running, about 40 miles north of the park. This is the closest town to the east. Here, the historic Gage Hotel is a destination in itself. The golden age of meeting strangers around an evening fire is brought back to life with the “no televisions in rooms” policy. You can find a TV in one of the common areas if needed. Rooms have a historic luxury about them, whether it’s a room in the main house, with wooden ceilings and exposed beams, or a tastefully decorated suite set around a picturesque courtyard. The lovely outdoor pool is a welcome treat on a hot day. On the west side of the park, you’ll find no shortage of comforts or activities at the luxurious Lajitas Golf Resort. This western-themed resort features an 18-hole golf course,
- Mid-Range Hotels: In Marathon , experience something different at Eve’s Garden Bed & Breakfast. This sprawling, adobe-esque, imaginative inn features indoor organic gardens that bloom year-round. Vibrant colors and uniquely decorated rooms create an experience-based stay. Common areas, including the courtyard with a pond and tea room, invite guests to relax or mingle. Near Terlingua, on the west side of the park, is the Terlingua Ranch Lodge, about 40 minutes from the park. It offers another unique experience. A collection of secluded, rustic cabins set amidst scenic mountains and desert offer a chance to fully appreciate the night sky from your deck or enjoy the serenity of the surroundings from the pool. This lodge is self-contained and best suited for people looking to escape from cities. There is a restaurant here and occasional live music.
More Outdoor Adventures around Big Bend National Park
Big Bend is a playground for outdoor adventures and full of unique locations. Plan your days at the park with our list of the best things to do in Big Bend. If you’re interested in exploring some of the park on foot – one of the best ways to see the scenery – check out our article on the best hikes in Big Bend National Park. Wondering where to go? Don’t overlook the West Texas towns of Amarillo, for at least a stop at Cadillac Ranch, and Lubbock, the hometown of the legendary Buddy Holly, and today a live music hot spot.